In most cases, you will start exploring Linux by choosing distribution. It is very important to choose the right a distribution, that will cover all your needs. All Linux distributions use Linux kernel and to some extent the same software, so all of them support the same hardware and have the same capabilities.
But they have other differences. For example, community size, ease of setup and configuration, number of teaching materials on the Internet, update frequency, etc.
I have used a lot of distributions. I started my journey in the Linux world with Ubuntu, then tried Gentoo, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Arch Linux, Linux Mint, Manjaro, and others. In this article, I will recommend two distributions for beginners, work and experiments.
If you are a beginner in Linux, and just have started to explore the open-source software world, you need a distribution, that will be easy to install and configure, have a huge number of manuals on the Internet, and a big community.
It can be Ubuntu. It is one of the most popular distributions, which is updated often enough, so the software in the repositories doesn't get completely out of date, but also has long-term support so you don't have to install a new version every few months.
As I said before, I started using Linux from Ubuntu, and after I have tried everything I want, I come back to Ubuntu. This distribution is suitable not only for beginners but also for everyday work. In most cases, we work not with the operating system but with applications. The operating system has to make it possible. Ubuntu does this very well.
Let's have a look at distribution advantages:
- Popularity. As I said before. Most Linux users use Ubuntu or distributions that are based on Ubuntu.
- Community and Support. Ubuntu has a large community of users. It increases your chances to solve any trouble with the system. There is a big possibility that someone had already solved it and posted the solution on the Internet.
- Development. Ubuntu is developed by Canonical. The owner of this company is Mark Shuttleworth. He is a famous billionaire. It means that the distribution will be alive for a long time and will get new features.
- Ease of installation. The Ubuntu installation process is no more difficult than the installation of Windows. You can just press the Next button. Event mount points configuration can be done automatically. While Arch Linux and Gentoo require manual installation by using a command line.
- Hardware support. Ubuntu has included drivers and proprietary firmware for different hardware.
- Preinstalled applications. most applications that you use every day are installed by default. For example browser, torrent clients, messenger, office software, etc.
- Software availability. most software developers for Linux build two package types: Ubuntu (.deb) and Fedora (.rpm). Some are only for Ubuntu. Also, you can meet packages for Arch Linux or other distros, but very rare. The appearance of Snap and Flatpak package managers makes things better, but the developers are mostly oriented on Ubuntu as the most popular distribution. For example, Valve officially supports only Ubuntu and SteamOS for their Steam client.
- Stability. Ubuntu does not have rolling updates, so you shouldn't be afraid of unexpected breaks.
- LTS releases. Canonical releases the LTS (Long Term Support) version of Ubuntu every two years. This release will be supported for at least the next two years or longer. During this time, you do not have to reinstall the operating system to get a new version or perform a risky system upgrade.
It will be better to start using Ubuntu from the default official flavor with Gnome. The distribution is developed and tested for use with this desktop environment. Other flavors, such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, etc can have bugs or issues with the configuration.
If you are not a beginner and want to have full control over your operating system, customize everything, and install all software manually - try using Gentoo. This distribution is very difficult to set up and use for beginners. But it can help to understand what Linux distributions are built and how they work.
Here you will have to compile almost a whole system from source code, compile a kernel, and configure all packages and utilities. But it's worth it. You can also figure everything out in Ubuntu, but this system is already built for you and works, you do not have to understand how. In Gentoo, this approach will not work. You will have to make everything work by yourself. Nowadays computers have a high performance, so you will not feel any significant gain in performance, but you will get knowledge and experience.
Let's have a look at advantages of Gentoo:
- Customizability and flexibility. Here you can customize and compile everything for yourself. You will figure out how Linux works faster because you will have to dive into it and use the terminal and command line very often.
- Rolling Updates. Updating Approach is similar to Arch Linux, but is much better and more thoughtful thanks to the portage package manager. You will get new versions of software pretty fast, not so fast as in Arch Linux, but without getting the system broken.
- Software Building. You can compile any software from source code. It allows enabling only required features. The portage package manager has flags, that help configure which features you want. In other distributions, additional features are shipped as dedicated packages, or everything is enabled by default.
Gentoo has disadvantages too. They are hidden in advantages. Customizability means that you will have to spend a lot of time on system configuration. Rolling updates are not as stable as the fixed release cycle in Ubuntu. Compiling software from sources greatly increases the installation time.
In conclusion, I want to say: try and experiment. In this article, I told my opinion. But everybody has different tastes and preferences. Maybe you will like any other distribution. For example, you may want to get the freshest versions of software in Arch Linux despite its instability. Or you like the stability of Debian. Just try and then choose what you want to use!